Michael Allen, solutions vice-president at digital performance company Dynatrace
The rise of digital has not only transformed the way we work, but also the way we play – including how we book our holidays.
Gone are the days of traipsing the high street to visit a few travel agents to book a family summer holiday.
Now, consumers can visit multiple websites, browse thousands of hotels and hundreds of flights, to tailor their perfect trip.
According to Abta research, 89% of consumers booked a holiday online in the last year, indicating that websites, mobile applications and travel comparison sites are the new arenas where market share will be won and lost.
This shift in shopping preferences creates a double-edged sword for travel companies.
On the one hand, it provides access to a much bigger pool of potential customers and more opportunity to sell.
Furthermore, smaller players, with unknown brands, can get a seat at the table. On the other hand, attracting and retaining customers is increasingly difficult as the market is saturated by competitors with near identical offerings.
In this new online grudge match, the victors will be those who can get their product under the customer’s nose the fastest.
This means integrating seamlessly with third-party aggregators, having perfect performance 24/7 and delivering a first-class mobile experience.
Fast track boarding
Comparison sites are gaining popularity, creating a huge opportunity for travel companies looking to reach a wide audience.
However, the conversion rate of quotes to sales is often much lower through these sites, as consumers have so much choice.
From the comparison site’s perspective, their service depends on aggregating and comparing different travel options in seconds.
They can’t afford to wait for each quote to be returned as it could negatively impact their customer’s experience.
As result, if a company’s third-party service doesn’t integrate properly or interacts too slowly, the comparison site will either display the products on later pages, significantly reducing the likelihood of a sale, or not at all.
Travel companies looking to capitalise on comparison sites therefore need to focus on digital performance to stand any chance of success.
Yet delivering an application that integrates seamlessly and interacts quickly is increasingly difficult.
Integrations with third-party services – such as comparison sites – add layers of complexity that increase the chances that something will malfunction and the sheer volume of requests puts a lot of pressure on backend systems to process an overwhelming number of transactions.
However, while most companies will recognise if a service has failed completely, they often lack visibility into how fast their services are performing. This means they may be missing business opportunities without even realising.
As such, it’s critical to have granular visibility into the digital service delivery chain, so that service degradations can be identified and resolved.
Companies need visibility at the individual transaction level, in real-time, to understand the health of the service. Yet prevention is better than cure.
By analysing how a digital service interacts in the testing and development stage, organisations can have a clearer picture of where problems may occur and spot any integration issues before customers use it.
This way, problems can be solved before sales are lost.
Open all hours
The other problem travel companies face is time. Consumers are no longer constrained to travel agent opening hours, with most booking their holidays during evenings and at weekends.
As most sales are made outside of regular working hours, when the majority of IT support staff have gone home, many companies do not realise a problem has occurred until the next day; by which time the damage has already been done.
In this context, planning is key. Load testing can provide insights into how services will perform under varying levels of web traffic, helping teams to plan their IT infrastructure to cope with peaks in demand.
IT can also automate processes, such as provisioning of cloud servers, to avoid performance lags linked to capacity issues.
Beyond this, IT teams need to be constantly in touch with site performance by automatically analysing end-to-end performance data about every customer journey, proactively alerting IT teams to potential problems.
This way, they can resolve any bottlenecks to reduce the risk of problems arising when they are out of the office.
As well as booking breaks in the evening and at weekends, consumers are increasingly looking for holidays on the move.
Indeed, research has shown that 66% of 25-34 year olds booked holidays through mobile devices in 2015.
As a result, travel companies need to optimise their mobile websites and apps to capitalise on impulse buyers and cater for this lucrative demographic.
Just like their desktop equivalents, mobile apps and sites need to be developed with the customer experience, and consequently performance, in mind from the outset.
However, protecting the performance of mobile sites and applications once deployed is easier said than done, as these services are at the mercy of external factors, such as the behaviour of a user’s device or network.
To safeguard the customer experience of mobile sites and applications, travel providers need the ability to profile user behaviour in relation to experience, and monitor the underlying performance of their transactions across a range of devices and locations.
This lets digital and mobile business owners identify whether performance degradations are caused by their service, or whether the issues stem from the user’s device or network.
Set Sail for Success
Ultimately, travel companies are operating in a very complex digital world, which makes it incredibly difficult to provide the flawless experience holidaymakers have come to expect.
To ensure their customers don’t defect to a competitor, digital travel companies need an almost supernatural ability to pinpoint and resolve performance issues within their own systems, and those of others that they rely on, before their customers feel the impact.
That’s a pretty tall order by anyone’s standards, but taking a proactive approach to digital performance management will make the holiday experience a lot less stressful for everyone involved.